- Demographic composition of the state has been the most contentious point of debate in the politics of Tripura. The partition of India and the persecution of minorities in East Pakistan in the years leading up to the India-Pakistan War in 1971 led to large scale immigration of Hindu Bengalis from the neighbouring districts of what is now Bangladesh, reducing the indigenous tribal population in Tripura to a minority. It may be noted though that the state had substantial Bengali population even when it was being ruled by the Manikya dynasty and the tribal population barely had a majority in the decades before partition. Further, large portion of the migration has happened from the plain Tipperah district (presently the Comillah district of Bangladesh) which was at that time under the nominal rule of the king of Tripura.
- Nevertheless, the backlash against the large scale migration in the decades following independence and the settlement of a number of Bengali migrants into hitherto tribal lands led to the rise of tribal insurgency. The first phase of insurgency happened in the eighties, lasting from 1980 to 1988 and came to an end after a shambolic accord was signed between Rajiv Gandhi and Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl, the leader of Tripura National Volunteers (TNV), an outlawed group, in 1988. The second phase of insurgency started in the early nineties and continued for around ten years; at its peak (in the period between 1997 and 2001) it was among the deadliest insurgencies in India killing several hundred people, mostly hapless Bengali civilians, every year. The death toll started coming down from early 2000s as the insurgency gradually petered out; the end of the insurgency, at least for now, remains one of the most notable achievements of the Left Front government under Manik Sarkar.
- The last two years have seen sporadic outbreak of violence and a perceived worsening of relation between the two communities – the main catalyst has been agitations launched by the Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura (IPFT), an opposition party, demanding a separate state of Tipraland for the tribal population, to be carved out of the existing boundaries of Tripura. The proposed map of Tipraland, however, makes it unlikely that such a state would be feasible from administrative point of view. The lump of a state which will be left after the proposed partition (shown in the map below) will basically be a collection of small Bengali majority towns with no physical linkages with each other or with the rest of India. Further, with an area of around 3200 sq. Km., this will also be the smallest state in India. Also, the fate of the Bengali population living in tribal majority areas and vice versa is not clear – as per the 2001 Census, the twenty seats reserved for scheduled tribes (and expected to form almost the entire proposed Tipraland) had 34% Bengali population while the remaining 40 general constituencies had 14% ST population.
- The Left Front has been in power in Tripura since 1977 under three different chief ministers, except for a brief hiatus in the period between 1988 and 1993 when an alliance of Indian National Congress and Tripura Upajati Jubo Samiti formed the government. Manik Sarkar himself has been the chief minister since 1998. There has been a sense of continuity in how the parties have performed in the assembly election as well – the various parties have largely maintained their seat tally and vote share in the elections dating back to 1993.
- This sense of continuity extends to the way the major parties have extended tickets to the same set of people over the last few years and they have continued to get elected year after year. A number of assembly constituencies have seen contests between the same two individuals over a protracted period of time. In fact, out of the 60 MLAs elected in 2013, an astonishing 19 (i.e. almost one-third of the MLAs) were veterans of the 1993 election. The number of common, winning candidates in the various elections has been mentioned in the table below:
- Manik Sarkar has been talked about in the national media as one of the poorest chief ministers in India. This is reflected in the comparison of the net worth of Mr Sarkar (in INR Crores) with the Chief Ministers of other states.
- The Indian National Congress has been the main opposition party in the state for the last 25 years. For all practical purposes though, it has been a terribly weak opposition – hampered by petty factionalism, ineffective leadership, lack of grassroot organisation outside the major urban centres, and public memory of the lawlessness under its rule during 1988-1993. Further, the entire party organization generally remains in a period of inertia between the assembly elections and this is reflected in its abysmal performance in the Lok Sabha and municipal, panchayat elections. In the chart below, notice how the vote share of Congress drops precipitously in the off-year Lok Sabha elections.
- The Indian National Congress is also handicapped by its poor organization and lack of support in the tribal dominated areas. As a result, it has had to depend on tribal parties like Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti (TUJS) and later the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT) in the 20 assembly constituencies reserved for the Scheduled Tribes. There are large swathes of the state where the party has no presence and has not won an election in years. In fact, the Left Front has been in the last few decades the only major party to have a broad base of support across the entire state.
In as many as 30 assembly constituencies (i.e. 50% of the total constituencies), the Congress has never won or has won only once in the last eight elections.
- The sense of déjà vu that accompanies every assembly election in Tripura is expected to change in this year’s elections. The landscape of the opposition parties has undergone tremendous upheaval in the last five years. A majority of the legislators of the Indian National Congress broke away from the party to join the Trinamool Congress first and then the Bharatiya Janata Party. On the other hand, the INPT has also split into three different parties – the INPT, the Indigenous Peoples front of Tripura (IPFT) – NC Debbarma faction and the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) – Rajeshwar Debbarma The BJP and the IPFT – NC Debbarma faction have gradually supplanted INC and INPT respectively to emerge as the major parties in the plains and the hills respectively as is reflected in their vote share in their performances in the civic polls and by-polls since 2015. The BJP and the IPFT (NC Debbarma) will contest the election as part of an alliance, presenting the main alternative to Left in the forthcoming election.
- The Left Front has strong presence across the state; even then, it has traditionally been strongest in the rural seats reserved for Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes, and in the districts of South Tripura, Khowai, Sipahijala, and Gomati. It is at its weakest in the West Tripura, and North Tripura districts, predominantly in seats which are urban in nature and not reserved for any category.
- While the left has comfortably won every election since 1993 in terms of seats, its lead in terms of vote share has been much narrower. In fact, there are a number of assembly constituencies, which have been won by less than 5% and as a result, a slight swing in the vote share may result in drastic reduction in its seat count.
- Based on the performance of the Left Front in the three elections since delimitation (i.e. the 2009 Lok Sabha election, 2013 Assembly election and 2014 Lok Sabha election), the various assembly constituencies have been arranged below, in ascending order of vote share of the Left Front:
The most favourable path for the BJP-IPFT alliance to come to power includes sweeping the urban centres, especially in West Tripura and North Tripura districts, and making sizeable gains in the other constituencies. The twenty seats which have been reserved for scheduled tribe candidates shall also prove to be critical; the Left had virtually swept these seats in the last two elections, but the BJP has worked hard to spread its influence among the tribal voters. To complicate matters though, the remaining parties, including the Indian National Congress, the Trinamool Congress, and three tribal parties may eat away some of the anti-Left votes at the margins, thus possibly tilting a number of critical seats in favour of the Left.